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St John's College, University of Sydney
St John's College shield
Full name The College of St John the Evangelist
Motto Nisi Dominus Frustra
Unless the Lord is with us, our labor is vain
Named after St John the Evangelist - author of the fourth Gospel
Previous names The College of St John the Evangelist
Established 1858
Sister College(s) University of Melbourne
 head_name = Rector
{{{head_name}}} Mr Michael Bongers
Location University of Sydney, H2
8A Missenden Road, Camperdown NSW, 2050

33°53′19.32″S 151°10′54.66″E / 33.8887°S 151.18185°E / -33.8887; 151.18185
Undergraduates 173
Postgraduates 12
Homepage Alumni Homepage
St John's College, built in the Gothic Revival style, as seen from Parramatta Road.
Virtual Tour of St John's College

St John's College, or the College of St John the Evangelist, is a residential College within the University of Sydney.

Established in 1857, the College of St John the Evangelist is the oldest Roman Catholic university college and second-oldest university college in Australia. St John's is a co-educational community of 185 undergraduate and postgraduate students. The rector, Michael Bongers, has governed the college since 2009.



The College of St John the Evangelist was founded by Archbishop John Bede Polding, who named it after the author of the fourth Gospel. The symbol of the College is the traditional symbol of St John, the eagle, denoting a high-flying perspective on the world. St John's College is the oldest Catholic tertiary institution in Australia. It was the first Catholic college to be established in a pre-existing non-Catholic university in the English-speaking world since the Reformation.

In 1854 the first effort to establish a Catholic college within The University of Sydney was made at a meeting in the old St Mary's Cathedral. The NSW Government promised a pound for pound subsidy of up to a 20,000-pound limit if at least 10,000 pounds was raised by public subscription. Remarkably this was met in six months from July 1857. On December 15, 1857 the Act to Incorporate Saint John’s College as a College within the University of Sydney was passed in the NSW Parliament and received Royal Assent from Queen Victoria. The Proclamation of the St. John's College Council took place on July 1, 1858. [1]

In 1887, James Francis Hogan wrote in The Irish in Australia, that St Ignatius' College, Riverview, St. Joseph's College, Hunters Hill and

St. John's College, affiliated to the University of Sydney...are three educational institutions that reflect the highest credit on the Catholic population of the parent colony.[2]


In February 1859 William Wilkinson Wardell the architect of St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney and St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, was appointed architect for St John's College. Working from Melbourne he drew up the general plans and sent them to Sydney in May 1859. Wardell designed St John's College as a three-storeyed sandstone Gothic Revival building on an H-shaped plan but because of budget restrictions with a limit of 30,000 pounds, July and August saw discussion of Wardell's design and of how much could be built within the budget. In September and October the general plans were approved by the St John's Council and the University Senate.

During the period from October 1859 to April 1860 relations between Wardell and the Council deteriorated for various reasons, ultimately ending with Wardell's resignation in June 1860. With the main building programme already in progress the Council retained Wardell's plans and proceeded with the construction under the supervision of Edmund T. Blacket, another of Australia's best known colonial architects who had finished construction of the first stage of St Paul's College at the University of Sydney the previous year. When Blacket was appointed to supervise the construction of St John's several changes were made to Wardell's specification being the substitution of Australian Hardwood for Pitch Pine, the use of bar trusses in the Chapel, omission of a fountain, use of common bricks instead of fire bricks, substitution of Colonial for Portland stone and the use of ornamental pillars in the library. Blacket estimated that these and other changes would occasion a saving of 1,689 pounds, thus leaving the amended quote at 35,754 pounds. When the College was finally occupied the cost of construction for the first stage was in fact 40,000 pounds.[3]

English Benedictine influence

St John's College was founded as a Benedictine Foundation by Archbishop of Sydney John Bede Polding formerly an English Benedictine monk of Downside Abbey. The English Benedictines were prominent in the raising of public support for the founding of St John's and Dom Maurus O'Connell, Dean of St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney and first Australian-born Benedictine priest, was appointed as the first Rector of the College in 1858. When Roger Bede Vaughan, a former Monk of Downside Abbey arrived in Sydney as Polding's Coadjutor bishop in 1873, he was elected by the Fellows as Rector. Vaughan retained the rectorship until he succeeded Polding as Archbishop in his own right, but continued to live in the College and use it as his Episcopal Palace. Vaughan's secretary Dr Anselm Gillett, a monk of Ampleforth who had been resident at Belmont Priory during Vaughan's time as superior before his departure for Australia, acted as Rector during Vaughan's time as Archbishop. After Vaughan's death and Gillett's return to England, another Benedictine, Fr David Barry was appointed Rector in 1884. In the latter part of the nineteenth century the College Council was dominated by clerical fellows who were Benedictine monks and the majority of its students were educated at the Benedictine Lyndhurst College, Glebe. [4]

The carved Gothic-style reliquary box held in the chapel contains the skull of St Bede the Lesser, a Benedictine Monk who died pre-1000 AD. The relic had been preserved in a reliquary in the church of St Benignus at Genoa, served by the Benedictine Monks of Monte Cassino until the early 1800s. The relic was transported to Sydney by the missionary priest Martial Mary and presented to Archbishop Vaughan whilst he was residing in the college.

The Great Hall (Dining Hall)
St John's College Library
Freehill Tower Foyer
Artist's impression of proposed buildings


St John's College is perhaps the grandest Gothic Revival building in Australia and designed by one of England's (and Australia's) foremost ecclesiastical architects of the mid-nineteenth century is unique in New South Wales collegiate architecture in its combination of scale quality and construction. A rare realisation of Pugin's ideal Catholic college (and in turn based on Magdalen College, Oxford), it demonstrates the influence of Pugin on the work of William Wardell. It is a splendid example of the period when Pugin's insistence of archaeological accuracy was giving way to the more eclectic influences of the High Victorian generation.

Built entirely in sandstone, the college is fourteenth century English Gothic in style and substantially Renaissance Baroque in plan, in the manner of Wardell's earlier monasteries and convents. The principal floor or 'piano nobile' level is elevated above the ground floor and is related to a central space (the Ante-chapel) by a series of classical enfilades. The arrangement of the ground floor entry vestibule, and the formal, axially linked Imperial staircase are just as much classical in inspiration. In this respect St John's is unlike the traditional layout of an English university college. The formal parts of the building are very grand, particularly if compared to the almost domestic scale of Blacket's contemporary St Paul's College.

The main facade on the north wing is a typical exercise in Victorian near symmetry with the central tower nearly in the middle. Under the tower is a porte cochere. Continuing south along the visitor's line of entry on the main axis is a visually low, dark vestibule. This enhances the view, through an open arcade and transverse passage, of the more brightly sidelit formal stone staircase. To the north of the stairhall on the principal floor is the central space. To the east of this space is the chapel, viewed through an arcaded screen. To the south is a vista across the stairwell, through an anti-room to the library and on to the students' accommodation. To the west is the Great Hall, although this was not visible from the central space on Wardell's original design. Lastly through a wide opening to the north is the Lady Chapel in the tower.

Chapel and Lady Chapel

The Chapel of St John's College, unusually located on the first floor, was completed in 1863 and is a space of five bays with a high wooden roof. The two bays at the east end are distinguished as a chancel by a change in floor level. The eastern half of the chapel is in the traditional collegiate Choir arrangement. The details of the tracery and mouldings are late thirteenth and early fourteenth century English Gothic. There is a small gallery over the chapel originally designed to enable invalids from the infirmary to hear Mass.

Many of the sanctuary furnishings are believed to have been designed by Blackett in the 1860s including the Blessed Sacrament shrine, which is made of Bondi Gold Sandstone, the tabernacle, cedar choir stalls and pews. The walls of keyed sandstone were originally covered in plasterwork with Pugin type decoration but this was completely removed in 1963. The chapel wrought iron gates were designed by Herbert Wardell and Denning and installed in 1921. The chapel contains five stain glassed windows, three of which were commissioned in 1918 from John Hardman and Co Birmingham, with the designed based on the writings of St Bonaventure, quoted by Cardinal Newman. The eastern window, also from Hardman and Co was presented to the college by Countess Freehill in 1937 in memory of her late husband, Francis Bede Freehill. The embellished sanctuary and Lady Chapel mosaics were also presented by Countess Freehill and laid by Melocco Co in 1916-17 and 1937 respectively (approximately the same time as the Kelly Chapel floor at St Mary's Cathedral). The sanctuary features oak reredos and panelling designed by Herbert Wardell and also two life sized carved statues of the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist made by Koffmefer of Munich.

Great Hall

The Great Hall or Dining Hall is an impressive space with massive wooden roof of collar beam and arched braces, with king post and with raking queen post. Each truss is visually supported by short stone shafts with foliate capitals and corbels in the early fourteenth century manner, as is the tracery. The formal entry stairs to the south have never been built and the original eastern wall has been replaced by an open arcade. On the western wall of the Great Hall is the Purcell Window completed in 1930 by Hardman and Co, Birmingham. The upper windows contain the coats of arms of the universities of Sydney, Oxford (trefoils), Cambridge (trefoils) and Paris (left soufflet) and St John's College (right soufflet). The Great Hall has on display a fine collection of portraits of past visitors, rectors, fellows and students with the most significant portrait being Archbishop Polding / Gallery oil painting of Archbishop Polding DSB 1866 by Eugene Montegu Scott (1835-1909) which was originally commissioned for St Mary's Cathedral.

Brennan Hall and library

The Brennan Hall is named after the notable Australian poet and classical scholar Christopher Brennan (1870-1932) who was a regular visitor and close friend of the Maurice J. O'Reilly, the then rector. The Brennan Hall has a fine double arcade of slender wooden piers. Each pier has four engaged shafts with appropriate bases and capitals supporting arched braces. All motifs are designed in fourteenth century manner like the reticulated tracery in the square loaded windows. The Brennan Hall is more grand than convenient as it is also a major thoroughfare.

The library holds several collections of books donated by past rectors and fellows of the college, contained in custom made locked shelving units as a private library for its historical relevance to the college. The stained glass windows on the eastern and western walls of the library are by Hardman and Co. Birmingham. The eastern windows contain the coats of arms of Bishop Davis, Archbishop Polding, St John's College and Archbishop Vaughan. The western windows contain the coat of arms of William Bernard Ullathorne, Cardinal Moran and Archbishop Kelly.

Later developments: 1918-present

In 1918, Wardell's son, Herbert, working with his partner Denning, designed what is known as the '38 wing (it was eventually begun in 1938) estimating the cost at 14,000 pounds. Construction was not started for 20 years because of lack of funds and was finally finished on a reduced scale in 1939.

In 1937 Countess Freehill donated 15,000 pounds to the College on the condition that it be used for the erection of the tower and that Hennessy and Hennessy be the architects. The design for the tower was 10 metres shorter than Wardell would have liked. Wardell believed that without the full height of the tower, the horizontality of the building would not be balanced. Nonetheless the tower was built to the amended design.

The 1960s saw great activity with extensions to the college. In 1961, 100 years after the first construction, Menzies Wing on the east end of the South Range was begun. The architects were McDonell, Mar and Anderson. The Menzies Wing was opened by the Right Honourable R. J. Menzies and blessed by Norman T. Cardinal Gilroy on May 14, 1961. In 1962 the refectory was extended through to where the sacristies were, leaving an open arcade where the eastern wall had been. The Polding Wing was built on the west end of the South Range in 1967 and opened by Sir Roden Cutler and blessed by Archbishop James Caroll on November 26, 1967. Although these wings are four-storeyed and very different to the design of Wardell, the architects have looked back to his design for guidance and inspiration. Their modifications of Wardell's original design enabled the present building to accommodate 181 students.

Future developments

In May 2007 the St John's College 150th Anniversary Capital Appeal was launched with the aim of raising funds for new building works planned to commence in 2009; a new building that completes the dream of the original architects, William Wardell and Edmund Blacket, completing Wardell's quadrangle and the Missenden Road Building, the Grand Staircase from the Great Hall, and Blacket's cloisters designed to accommodate over 70 more students. A land transaction between St John's and The University of Sydney is intended to provide the balance of the funds needed. The patron of the appeal is Michael Hintze.[5]

Formal Dinner in The Great Hall
College tennis courts and sports grounds
The Dail Junior Common Room

Student life

St John's College offers a traditional Oxbridge 'collegial' experience of University life, situated on grounds within The University of Sydney Main Campus.[6]

Academic life

The College exists primarily as an academic community and it is justly proud of its reputation in this regard. Academic assistance is provided to scholars by the Academic Coordinator, assisted by a team of resident and non-resident tutors comprising senior and postgraduate scholars and university teaching staff and academics. The tutorial programme is comprehensive (over 50 subjects per week) designed to supplement the teaching programs provided by the university. St John's has a vibrant postgraduate community and students are valued for their academic seniority and community leadership.


The St John's College chapel was completed in 1863 in the Gothic Revival style as part of the northern wing and longitudinal arm of the college. The Chapel is actively used as a place of worship and also for some weddings, concerts and other college events. Catholic Mass is celebrated in the College Chapel weekly on Sundays at 5:30pm during the academic year, and on other important liturgical occasions. Each Wednesday after Formal Dinner Night Prayer is held in the chapel. Adoration and Benediction is held regularly throughout the semester and during stu-vac. All students of the college are encouraged to worship as a community and it is kept open at all times for prayer and personal reflection.

Formal dinners

Formal Dinners are held at 6.30 pm on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the academic year. Attendance is mandatory and all members of the College must wear an academic gown and dress appropriately - men with jacket and tie, women in dress or skirt. There are ample occasions during the academic year when either Black Tie or Lounge Suit for men and ballgown or evening gown for women are worn, depending on the event. At formal dinners, traditional formalities are observed. Students enter the Hall and stand in place prior to the arrival of the members of High Table - the Rector, members of the Senior Common Room and other invited guests - who process in after the Gong has been sounded. Grace is then said in Latin. Late arrivals should bow to the Rector (or Visitor) and be acknowledged. It is considered discourteous to leave the Hall before the final Grace.


Sport is an important aspect of Collegial life. St John's College teams compete against the other Sydney Colleges in a wide range of sports for the Rawson Cup (men's sport) and the Rosebowl Cup (women's). The Rawson Cup was donated by Sir Harry Rawson in 1906, and is now affectionately known by many college men as "Harry". The Rawson sports are played throughout the university year, including: Cricket, Rowing, Rugby, Swimming and Diving, Soccer, Tennis, Basketball and Athletics. Other sports that feature in the Rosebowl Cup are Hockey, Netball and Softball.

The college has expansive sporting facilities including a rugby oval, football oval, cricket nets and floodlit tennis and basketball courts. All college residents are also members of Sydney Uni Sport and Fitness and are entitled to access to all exclusive member benefits and services, including 3 on-campus gymnasiums and indoor aquatic centre.

Social and cultural

Major events each year include a College play, an informal and two black tie formal balls, and the intercollegiate debating competition. The Student Club also operates a bar, 'The Dail' in the area adjacent to the Junior Common Room.

Music and drama

The College Choir sings at Mass in the Chapel regularly and also performs at other occasions. Concerts to showcase the musical talents of students are presented each year. Arts of Gold is a bi-annual event that showcases the artistic talents of St John's students to raise money for a selected charity. The College takes part in the Intercollegiate Debating Cup every year, competing with the other Colleges of the University of Sydney. Competition is of a high standard with many college teams consisting of University debaters.

The College competes in the Palladian Cup where the colleges compete in solo and group instrumental and drama performance. St John's won the Palladian Cup in 2007.

The College enjoys a close relationship with Capella Sublima, a distinguished a cappella vocal consort based at St John's College, where its singers rehearse. In the European Renaissance, a cappella was a group of musicians attached to a cathedral or the court of a monarch. Capella sublima specialises in choral masterworks of the European Renaissance. Its extensive repertoire includes Josquin, Lassus, Palestrina, Victoria, Guerrero, Tallis and others. The Capella has been recorded for broadcast by ABC Classic FM and numerous other Sydney radio stations. [7]

International students

Currently over ten per cent of St John's residents come from overseas. Students are represented from The United States, China and Hong Kong, Great Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and South Africa.


Government of the College is vested by the 1857 Act of Incorporation in the College Council, which consists of the Rector and eighteen Fellows, six of whom must be Catholic clergy. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, currently George Cardinal Pell, takes the role of Visitor of the College. This is a largely ceremonial role and can also be called to give guidance and resolve internal disputes. Under the direction of the Archbishop as Visitor, the College associates itself with the interests of the Church and its mission, particularly by the fostering of appropriate academic directions in education, charity, social justice, ethics and the environment.[8]

College Council

The College is governed by the College Council which consists of the Rector, Mr Michael Bongers, and 18 College fellows, 6 of whom must be members of the clergy. The current Chairman of the Council is Mr John McDonald BEc and the Deputy Chair is Mr Philip Meagher, LLB.

Honorary Fellows

St John's College has a number of Honorary Fellows, distinguished members of the University and wider community, who have been selected to support the Rector by representing the interests of the College in their own spheres and by mentoring students

Student Club

The Student Club is the body that looks after much of the day-to-day activity of the students of the College. Formed in 1891, the Students' Club is governed by its own constitution and is led by the House Committee. The House Committee is elected by the students at the end of each academic year. The activities of the Club are varied, ranging across social, cultural, sporting and disciplinary areas. The House Committee comprises the House President, House Secretary, House Treasurer and six committee members.

Eastern Elevation from St John's Oval

Distinguished alumni

Politics and Law



Media and the Arts

  • Bill Peach AM - former ABC TV journalist
  • Sir Patrick O'Sullivan - literary journalist, Adult lyricist
  • Dean Yates - Bureau Chief of Reuters News Agency Baghdad
  • Andrew Corrigan - wine connoisseur and writer and ABC Radio presenter
  • Dan Williams - singer in band Arts vs Science


  • Dr Paul D. Scully-Power AM Australia's first Astronaut, former Chairman of the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority, former Chief Technology Office of Tenix and former Chancellor of Bond University
  • Prof James Franklin - historian, mathematician and philosopher
  • Prof Paul Fagan FRCS - otorhinolaryngologist
  • Prof John Lynch - Epidemiology and Population Health
  • Prof Edward Hughes - Literary and film theorist specialising in late Victorian and post-modern aesthetics
  • Prof David John Harland - Challis Professor of Law at the University of Sydney
  • Prof Thomas John Butler - Latin and first Australian born to hold Academic Chair
  • Prof Greta Beaumont OAM - Literary theorist and gender philosopher (19th century Womens Literature)
  • Prof Peter Cunich - historian


Religious Leaders


Rhodes Scholars[11]

  • Terence Glasheen
  • Colin Hingston
  • Michael L'Estrange
  • Tony Abbott
  • Anthony Dietz


  • (1858-1860) Maurus O'Connell O.S.B.
  • (1860-1874) Dr John Forrest D.D
  • (1874-1877) Roger William Bede Vaughan]] O.S.B.
  • (1877-1883) Dr Anselm Gillett O.S.B., D.D
  • (1883-1884) Fr. Daniel Clancy S.J.
  • (1884-1887) David Barry O.S.B.
  • (1887-1888) Patrick Murphy
  • (1888-1915) Dr James J. O'Brien D.D
  • (1915-1933) Dr Maurice O'Reilly C.M., D.D
  • (1933-1958) John C. Thompson C.M., BA (Hons) MA Dip.Ed (Oxon)
  • (1958-1958) William Cantwell C.M. (acting)
  • (1958-1968) John Burnheim M.A. D.Phil.
  • (1968-1969) Edmund Barry (acting)
  • (1969-1977) Gregory Meere
  • (1977-1980) Joseph Rheinberger DD STL MA VG
  • (1980-1992) Lester Cashen OAM, BA MPs(Hons) PhC
  • (1992-1994) Barry Tunks
  • (1994-1995) Martin Milani (acting)
  • (1995-2000) Marshal McMahon
  • (2000-2000) Paul O'Donnell (acting)
  • (2000-2000) Michael Connors
  • (2001-2001 John Hill
  • (2001-2002) Dr Colin Fowler O.P. (acting)
  • (2002-2008) Dr David Daintree K.H.S BA MLitt PhD
  • (2009 - ) Mr Michael Bongers BEd (UCQ) MEd(QUT) Dip Teaching



  1. ^ St John's College - History,, viewed 2007.
  2. ^ "The Irish in Australia" — by James Francis Hogan, 1887. Reproduced by Project Gutenberg (retrieved 15 June 2006).
  3. ^ St John's College - Architecture,, viewed 2007.
  4. ^ Sons of St Benedict: The English Benedictines and St John's College, Peter Cunich, 1987.
  5. ^ The Word - St John's College Alumni Magazine 2007
  6. ^ St John's College - Handbook ,, viewed 2007.
  7. ^ Capella Sublima Website,, viewed 2007.
  8. ^ An Act to Incorporate Saint John’s College as a College within the University of Sydney, Assented to December 15th 1857,, viewed 2007.
  9. ^ St John's College Matriculation Book, viewed 2007
  10. ^ Australian Dictionary of Biography Online,
  11. ^ Sydney Alumni Rhodes Scholars list,, viewed 2007
  12. ^ Rectors of St John's College Honour Board, located in Brennan Hall, St John's College, viewed 2007

External links


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